What are the PCBUs duties?

What are the PCBUs duties?

To workers

A PCBU must ensure so far as ‘reasonably practicable’  the health and safety of

  • workers engaged, or caused to be engaged by the person
  • workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the person while at work in the business or undertaking.

To other persons

A PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking.

A PCBU will be liable if they expose another person to risk to their health and safety and the risk arose from work carried out as part of their conduct of the business or undertaking.

What does this require?

 The WHS Act specifically includes the following measures which must be taken for workers and other persons:

  • A safe work environment, plant and structures
  • Safe systems of work
  • Safe use, handling and storage of plant, structures and substances
  • Adequate facilities for the welfare of workers at work
  • The provision of information, training, instruction and supervision for work to be carried out safely
  • Monitoring of worker health and work conditions.

What does ensure so far as “reasonably practicable” mean for PCBU duties? (WHS Act section 18)

The guiding principle of the WHS Act is that all people are given the highest level of health and safety protection from hazards arising from work, so far as is reasonably practicable.

This requires an assessment of the level of risk, what can be done and what is reasonable to do. In all cases, regulators will expect the highest level of protection in the circumstances.

In determining what is reasonably practicable, there is a requirement to weigh up all relevant matters including:

  • the likelihood of a hazard or risk occurring (ie the probability of a person being exposed to harm)
  • the degree of harm that would result if the hazard or risk occurred (ie the potential seriousness of injury or harm)
  • what the person concerned knows, or ought to reasonably know, about the hazard or risk and ways of eliminating or minimising it
  • the availability of suitable ways to eliminate or minimise the hazard or risk
    the cost of eliminating or minimising the hazard or risk.

From the regulator’s perspective, cost will not be the key factor in determining what is reasonable for a PCBU to do unless it can be shown to be ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the risk. There is a clear presumption in favour of safety over cost.

If the risk is particularly severe, a PCBU will need to demonstrate that costly safety measures are not reasonably practicable due to their expense and that other less costly measures could also effectively minimise the risk.

A systematic approach to risk management is needed - the hierarchy of controls

In weighing up these considerations, PCBUs are expected to have a systematic approach to managing risk. They are required to consider all the facts and everything relevant to the hazards, risks and their elimination/ minimisation.

The WHS Regulations and the  code of practice, How to manage work health and safety risks set out the process of managing risk according to the hierarchy of controls.

This means that PCBUs must eliminate the risk so far as reasonably practicable.

If this is not possible, the risk is to be minimised by isolation, substitution or engineering controls.

If the risk remains, administrative controls are to be used. These include training, supervision, instructions, signage.

The final measure is the provision of personal protective equipment and ensuring its proper use.

Must have knowledge to decide what is reasonably practicable

The WHS Act requires PCBUs and officers to use information about a particular hazard and the controls currently and reasonably available. This requires the PCBU to be familiar with the hazards and risks in the workplace and  the sources of  current information on potential ways to eliminate it.

PCBUs and officers  will be expected to be aware of the available state of knowledge about how harm could occur, how likely this is, and what can be done to prevent its occurrence.

This means

· Undertaking risk assessments
· Learning from previous incidents
· Checking what regulators and inspectors have said
· Knowing what the regulations and codes of practice require
· Consulting with workers
· Consulting and co ordinating with other PCBUs involved with your work
· Checking OHS publications and websites

WHS Regulations and Codes of practice

There are specific obligations for certain industries or particular risks in the WHS regulations and codes of practice. The regulations must be followed.

Codes of practice allow some flexibility in some circumstances. Deviation from a code of practice requires the PCBU to be able to demonstrate that their alternative approach provides the same level of safety and protection from harm.

PCBU obligations are proactive

PCBUs and their officers are expected to be proactive - particularly in assessing hazards and risks from

  • Human error
  • Misuse of plant and equipment
  • Plant or equipment failure or malfunction 
  • Multiple hazards interacting
  • Other duty holders - other PCBUs and workers - not meeting their obligations (their failure will not remove your duty as a PCBU).

PCBU consultation duties

PCBUs have extensive obligations to consult with workers (as broadly defined, not just your own employees) and with other PCBUs.  Details are found in

Consultation with workers  (What does the  requirement to consult with workers mean?)


Consultation with other PCBUs (Consulting with other duty holders)

PCBU duties and officers

The role of the officer is to exercise due diligence to ensure that the PCBU complies with their duties and obligations under the WHS Act. This role is explained in  Due Diligence.